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“My Stories are On!”: What Tabletop Gamers Can Learn from Soap Operas

 

Some of us had a female family member or friend who was a devoted fan of soap operas while we were growing up. Whenever their stories were on, the television would light up and most other business was put aside. Some would rush home to catch their favorite soaps while others would simply catch up the next day, when the saga continued. Some of us would watch for a while before moving on; others of us sat down and became fans in our own right. One of my early memories of television is the wedding of Bo and Hope Brady on Days of our Lives in 1985. I watched Days and Another World with my ma whenever I was home during weekdays and summers for the first 15 years of my life.

This cover of TV Guide from the summer of 1985 features the big-haired 80s beauty of Bo and Hope in the lower left corner; this is how I'll always remember them.

Supercouples TV Guide Cover July 20, 1985"TV Guide #1686" by trainman (resized) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While soap operas have grown less popular as reality has taken over the airwaves, many shows remain and have loyal, sometimes generational, fan bases. For decades, there were many soaps to choose from on daytime television in the United States. In Mexico, telenovelas have enduring popularity and fans discuss them regularly. The world’s longest-running soap opera currently is a radio broadcast from Britain, which has been on the air since 1950. Soaps have been popular across Europe; they remain so in India and Turkey.

Some people have made fun of soap operas as being silly, unrealistic, and too focused on romance and relationships. Others find them boring because there aren’t big fight scenes or action sequences. But their long-term appeal is no mistake, and believe it or not, they can teach us ways to enrich and extend tabletop roleplaying games.

How did I arrive at this conclusion? Well, it all started when I used what I saw in soaps as inspiration for my childhood Barbie playtime. Let me tell you, my Barbies went through crazy shit, but their adventures were never boring. They all had distinct personalities, histories, relationships, and voices, and I was engrossed in play for hours, creating my own world and sagas all the while. One day, my dad heard voices and thought a radio was on in the bedroom. He found me alone with my dolls and no radio or television in sight, and was impressed.

Years later, when I first started playing tabletop games, I started out with some real advantages. My characters were always engaging people, and my stories regularly had rich social possibilities. It took me a while to realize just how much soaps influenced my relationship with stories of all kinds. However, I’ve come to appreciate it more over the years, and it’s time I wrote about it. Because whether you’re a player or a game director, soap operas can help you develop unforgettable characters and stories that stand the test of time.

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The Bold and the Beautiful: Building Characters - A review of what soaps can teach us about characters' personalities, appearance, and motives.

   
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Guiding Light: Casting & Releasing Characters - Let's look at how to introduce, recast, and send-off characters in memorable ways, using the soap opera model.

   
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More to come!

   
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